A couple of years ago, while researching my book, TRADING MANNY, I had an interesting conversation with former Yankee third-baseman Scott Brosius, who is now coaching baseball at Linfield College in Oregon. With my eight-year-old son, Joe, sitting in and listening, we talked about heroes in the game, the juice era and the shocking revelations of The Mitchell Report that confirmed that MLB had been riddled with steroids and performance-enhancing drug use for much of the past decade.
At one point, Brosius turned to Joe and said, "Are we going to forgive the players who screwed up, as we hope we'll be forgiven when we mess up in our lives?"
That conversation comes back to me as I wonder if Barry Larkin, who was inducted yesterday (deservedly, in my opinion) into the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, will be our last Hall of Famer. Because next year, there are going to be a whole lot of ballplayers with HOF credentials whom I think (also deservedly) will be passed over for induction.
I don't think we're ready to forgive Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds or Sammy Sosa. At least I'm not. It's not just because they (allegedly, in some cases, but really, who are we kidding?) achieved their great baseball successes on the mirage of PED drug use, although that's a big part of it.
It's also because none of them—and in fact, none of the other juicers named by Mitchell in his report of 2007—have come out and said, figuratively or literally to my kid, "It's wrong to take drugs to play baseball better. It's really dangerous for a person's health. It's not fair to the game or the other players. It's dangerous for kids and grown-ups alike. Don't do it."
In the case of the above-named three heroes, their silence on the subject and outright denials are just about as damning as the alleged drug use itself.
Let's not forget that besides the 89 players named in The Mitchell Report as having allegedly used drugs to improve their baseball careers, there still exists a sealed file that contains the names of 104 ballplayers who failed a 2003 drug test that was supposed to be anonymous. The players union has managed to suppress the names of those players, and the commissioner's office has not tried very hard to contest the issue and out the players (To date, only four players' names have been leaked from the list of 104: Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Sammy Sosa and David Ortiz.).
Which brings me back to something else that was said in that spring of 2009 interview with Coach Brosius. This time, it was eight-year old Joe who was doing the talking.
"I wonder what would happen," he said in his high, squeaky, fourth-grader's voice, "if somebody was elected to the Hall of Fame but then they found out afterwards that he had used steroids during his career. Would they kick him out of the Hall?"
Well...would they? With no way of knowing who was on that notorious list of 104 players and faced now with the Hall credentials of a whole generation of ballplayers who played through the Steroids Era (roughly 1995 -2005), can the baseball writers who do the voting confidently induct anyone?
And that's why Barry Larkin might have to wait a few years before he gets company in the Hall. Before we, as baseball fans, are ready to forgive.
Jim Gullo is the author of TRADING MANNY: How a Father and Son Learned to Love Baseball Again, which will be released on March 13. Pre-orders are presently being taken on Amazon.com.